Actualizing in Arizona

07 16, 2012

Toro Magazine

Well before a/c, Arizona’s hot as a sauna and dry as a bone climate festooned with sharp and spiny plant life made the territory a foreboding badland worthy of the ominous nickname “the Devil’s Frying Pan.”

Funny how a hundred years of creature comfort innovation can transform a reaper’s kitchen utensil into a spa and dimpled ball-chasing slice of heaven. Today’s ‘Zona may remain as parched and prickly as teddy-bear cholla but as long as you pack Chapstick and keep yourself hydrated, whether you’re hiking through the awe-inspiring red rocks of Sedona or catching the Cubbies spring training in Mesa you’ll find AZ is a serene place to recalibrate your chi.

While organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein coined the term “self-actualization,” it didn’t really catch fire until Abraham Maslow put it on the peak of his hierarchy of needs pyramid. Walking the streets of Scottsdale and off-roading in Sedona on a one-week quest to foster personal growth, seek spiritual fulfillment and sprout metaphorical butterfly wings, I immersed myself in architecture, therapeutic massage and golf therapy, and even found time for a little vortex meditation.

Zone Out Before You Can Zone In at Mii Amo

In my experience “what are your intentions…” is a query most often uttered sternly and with unequivocal menace, followed by “… with my daughter.” So at a quarter past eight in the morning, a peaceful ritual devoted to setting one’s daily intention was completely foreign territory. After removing my shoes and socks I entered Mii Amo’s Crystal Grotto, a dome-shaped room with an earthen floor which is the spiritual epicentre of the luxe destination spa, a few miles outside of Sedona in Boynton Canyon which can also be enjoyed by guests of the adjacent Enchantment Resort.

A therapist carrying a large feather, which she gently brushed on everyone as she passed them and a drum, which she beat rhythmically as she circled the room, guided everyone in meditation with a soothing voice that was as easy to succumb to as Adele’s Rolling in the Deep. With the relaxed ambiance amplified by the sand under your feet and the burbling of water from the petrified wood fountain at the centre of the room, the after-effect of the 15-minute mental agenda establishing party is akin to downing a cup of joe, you feel ready to start your day. Outside the room was a basket filled with paper notes where you can unburden yourself of any worries, stresses, or fears that threaten to bring down your mojo — the messages are burned daily so I didn’t have to sweat my compadres rifling through the basket to learn that the possibility of Linsanity ending prematurely was causing me to lose sleep at night.

To complement my refreshed mindfulness, later that afternoon I opted for a Blue Corn Body Polish. Having a grainy maize-based scrub applied and then massaged clean by seven Vichy showerheads while catching Z’s on a massage table with drainage holes felt like being on an episode of Extravagant Exfoliation and it would take three hours of self loofahing to feel as clean. When I get back there I’m going to have to try out their more exotic menu offerings like the Psychic Massage which pairs an energy reading with muscle kneading therapy or the Jojoba butter wrap which in addition to softening my skin to snuggle defcon 1 would provide me unique insight into what movie theatre popcorn feels like before it is devoured.

Architecture in the Key of AZ

Lloyd Wright disciple Paolo Soleri, who emigrated to Arizona in the mid-1940s, was green decades before passive energy and sustainable development were what all the cool kids carrying T-squares were blabbering about. A strong advocate for pedestrian-oriented environmentally conscious cities, he is credited with coining the portmanteaux arcology (architecture + ecology) and while the innovative earth-cast buildings at the Cosanti foundation (his homestead and sculpture studio where his famous bronze and ceramic wind chimes are hand-cast) are not meant to be examples of the concept, the structures do adhere to many of its principles. The partially subterranean dormitory where students come to learn from the master architect and many of the partially domed structures on the grounds have an otherworldly '70s science fiction quality to them bearing at least to my eyes a striking resemblance to the Dharma initiative stations from Lost. Sales of the bells help fund the construction of Acrosanti, Soleri’s experimental architectural vision of a future city smack in the high desert, 110 km north of Phoenix, and you can scope out his latest project, the soleri bridge and plaza, a pedestrian walkway on downtown Scottsdale’s waterfront.

A beaming Soleri, 92, wearing slippers and sporting a wooden cane made a surprise appearance during my tour and we were treated to a rare glimpse into the mind of a genius. After being inundated with camera flashes and signing a bunch of autographs, he told our guide Roger that he’d like some beer. “OK, I’ll send one over,” Roger promised. “No, send over a case.”

If you only have time for one afternoon of cultural immersion on a Scottsdale trip, pair Cosanti with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Tailisin West (a museum and still functioning school of architecture), a 20-minute drive away in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains for a venerable form and function fiesta. Wright was already in the twilight of his career when he relocated to Arizona in 1937 but the desert reinvigorated him and ages 81 to 90 turned out to be the most prolific period of his career. Students who enroll in Tailisin West spend their first year sleeping under the stars in the desert so that they can be inspired by their natural surroundings. They are tasked with building their own shelters and some of the results are pretty elaborate. You can take a shelter tour to check them out.

Wright believed it was very important to surround ourselves with beauty to enhance our spirits and affect who we are and inspire what we become, and he preached this philosophy through his architecture.

Keeping Wright’s advice in mind, I felt it imperative to spend the next morning playing architect Jay Morrish’s Boulders South golf course, perennially honoured on industry lists as a top resort track.

Despite playing the course in usually windy conditions, the Boulders brand of pure pinch-me golf will have even the most focused golfers reaching for their camera far more often than their rangefinder.

The blustery conditions provided the perfect excuse to break out a Polara ball I picked up at the PGA Merchandise show this past January and never had proper occasion to test out. While tour pros can’t use them, the aerodynamically enhanced mid-air slice and hook correcting balls kept me on the fairways, making the game a lot more enjoyable. Despite the wind, the straightening tech helped me par a couple holes in a row on the back nine and it would have been three in a row had I not topped the ball and lost it to the desert.

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